First, thank you for inviting me to share my story with fellow members of the NSAGO, an organization near and dear to my heart.
The church has always played an important role in my life, particularly First Presbyterian Church in Wilmette. I was baptized, confirmed and married there and have been Director of Music for 18 years. Our youth group and youth choir was a particular source of friendship and faith formation for me, so when I went off to DePauw University, that foundation was strong. Although I auditioned for the School of Music on piano and voice and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance, I studied organ for several years with professor Arthur Carkeek. He and his wife Maureen led several of us for a semester in Vienna, Austria. Playing and hearing organs at various churches in Vienna and in Budapest, Hungary was a highlight of my undergraduate years. My first organ position, one I shared with another organist friend, was at the Greencastle Presbyterian Church. We also had a DePauw AGO chapter; small but mighty, made up mostly of students.
Upon graduation, I thought I was going to pursue a master of music therapy degree but federal cuts in the arts and mental health discouraged me. Certain pieces fell into place and before I knew it, I was working toward a Master of Sacred Music degree at Northwestern. I enjoyed studies with Richard Enright, Wolfgang Rübsam, and Grigg Fountain, among others. Becoming a member of the University Chorale during my years at NU kept me singing. Brief stints at Emmanuel Methodist Church in Evanston and Edison Park United Methodist kept my hand in the church music world.
After Northwestern, I began working at Highland Park Presbyterian Church as Director of Music and also taught private piano lessons. While serving HPPC, Pastors Carl and Donna Gray encouraged me to grow, especially in the area of children’s music and handbells. The church committed to sending me to beautiful Montreat, North Carolina for several summers for the PC (USA) conference on Worship and Music. I was able to put my skills to work in the church’s growing music program though LOGOS (a weekly, after-school multi-faceted children and youth program) and our intergenerational handbell choir. After 13 years at HPPC, I felt the tug to return to First Presbyterian Wilmette when the Director of Music position became available.
When I began working at First Presbyterian Wilmette, much time had passed from when I had grown up in the church. Still, one older member and former neighbor claimed that he changed my diapers as a baby and reminded me and others of that fact many times (yikes!). The church was ripe for growth in many areas, especially music, and it has been a wonderful ride, not over yet.
I have served as a board member, sub-dean and dean of the NSAGO over the years. I encourage those who may be sitting on the side lines to become active on the board or with projects, as it is in this way you get to know fellow organists and form friendships. Soli Deo Gloria!
Peggy Massello, NSAGO member